Knesset to Debate Recognizing Armenian Genocide Amid Spat With Turkey

Left-wing Meretz party has submitted similar resolutions in recent years that never made it from committee to the Knesset floor

Armenian officials at the monument to the victims of mass killings by Ottoman Turks, Yerevan, Armenia, April 24, 2018
Tigran Mehrabyan/AP

The Knesset voted on Wednesday evening to hold a debate on recognizing the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government a century ago. 

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg submitted the motion earlier on Wednesday. The debate will be held at an unspecified date in the future.

Only 16 Knesset members participated in the session and a mere two MKs from the coalition, alongside Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, attended the session. 

In an exceptional move, the government informed the Knesset earlier on Wednesday that it would not submit a response to the motion to hold the debate on recognizing the Armenian genocide. In the past, the government objected to holding such a debate in the Knesset plenum.

Meretz had submitted similar resolutions in recent years that were subsequently debated in the Knesset Education Committee. This time she submitted the motion to the entire Knesset, insisting that the full Knesset debate it, rather than one of the committees.

The Knesset has been marking the Armenian genocide every year since 2012, but proposals of the sort are usually blocked because of the special relationship with Azerbaijan. The assumption is they will be blocked again.

Last week, several coalition MKs announced their intention to submit draft legislation on recognizing the Armenian genocide in response to anti-Israel comments and actions by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Education Minister Naftali Bennett asked Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to “approve official recognition by the State of Israel of the Armenian Holocaust committed by Turkey.”

Zandberg said Tuesday, “For many years now Israel has been evading recognition of the Armenian genocide, one of the most despicable acts of murder in the 20th century. This lack of recognition is a moral stain on Israel and on every country that chooses, out of its own interests, to ignore the suffering of the other. For us it is a matter of morality and not a momentary political act.”

Meretz led the struggle to recognize the genocide back in the days of Yossi Sarid. As education minister in 2000, Sarid attended an event marking the 85th anniversary of the genocide in the Armenian Church in Jerusalem. At the event, Sarid called on the Israeli government, then headed by Ehud Barak, to officially recognize the genocide. During his tenure as education minister, content about the Armenian genocide was included in the school curriculum, but it was removed by the Likud government when it returned to power.

Also known as the Armenian Holocaust, the genocide in question was the systematic killing of 1,500,000 Aremanians by the Ottoman government during and after World War I. Most of those killed were citizens of the Ottoman empire.